Verona Blog 1: wine, food and a good hotel

Following my recent visit to look at the 2008 Amarone wines, I can offer the following tips if you’re visting the delightful city of Verona for business or pleasure.

Where to stay:

Four-star Hotel Accademia is located in the heart of the city a short walk from, cafés, bars and outdoor market of the scenic the scenic Piazza delle Erbe. Traditional in style, this independent hotel is spacious and comfortable and the buffet breakfast is second to none. On my visit (January 2012) the staff were friendly and helpful. Double rooms from €135 (low season). Check for special offers. 12, Via Scala, www.accademiavr.it

Where to eat:

– Antica Bottega del Vino is one of Verona’s gastromic landmarks, and  as the name suggests, there’s an extensive wine list and cellar. Specialities include Risotto all’Amarone (see Verona Blog 2 for the recipe). Price guide: upmarket. 3, Vicolo Scudo di Francia, www.bottegavini.it

– Ristorante Greppia is a spacious family-run trattoria offering traditional dishes such as ossobuco (veal shank). Two courses per person with wine: €40, Vicolo Samaritina, www.ristorantegreppia.com

– Osteria dal Cavaliere is a contemporary wine bar where you can try some of the best wines of the region by the glass or bottle with ham and cheese including the delicious local cheese – Monte Veronese – or enjoy a more substantial meal. No booking required and good value. 3, Pizzetta Scala (off Via Scala).

Where to buy food and wine:

– Gastronomia di Via Stella: Feast your eyes on and extensive counter offering ready-made pasta dishes and hors d’oeuvres, local cheeses, salamis and more. You can’t come out empty-handed! 11, Via Stella, www.gastronomiastella.it

– Bread and cakes: Bread, fresh pasta and pizza, delicatessen and wine. Try the ricotta and spinach pie. Eat in or take away. De Rossi, 3, Corso Porta Borsari (near Piazza delle Erbe).

A fine glass for the New Year

I’m becoming far more selective about the kind of glass that I use or like to be offered, especially for particularly good wines. Elegant glasses with no frills and fine lines tend to catch my eye and, although my personal selection is far from extensive, I try to use a glass to suit a wine style be it Champagne, sherry, a fine white Burgundy or a richly aromatic Pinot Noir.

Recently I was invited to a presentation by glassware makers Riedel to mark the launch of its new tasting kit – The Key to Wine. Comprising five glasses of different shapes and sizes, the kit is designed to show how the choice of glass can really make a difference to the enjoyment of wine. See what I wrote about it for Wine Business International’s latest issue in the About section of this website.

Here are a few more tips on glassware:

1. I personally prefer clear glassware which allows the wine to be totally visible.

2. Though delicate, thin glass is more elegant and the glass should be tapered towards the rim to trap the aromas.

3. If you are only using one glass, choose one that is a reasonable size.

4. Wash fine glassware by hand and rinse well. Dry glasses with a clean dry cloth.

My Christmas wines

I love Christmas Eve: the hard work is over, the family is about to arrive, the fridge is well stocked, the Champagne is chilling and it’s time to start cooking.

This morning the smell of chocolate wafted through the house – we’re having chocolate pot (see below for the recipe) to go with the fantastic dessert wine Maury 1928 Solera, a dark fortified wine made from Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris and Carignan by Les Vignerons de Maury in the Roussillon.

Well before that we’ll be opening a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Ultra Brut. My boyfriend’s mother, Françoise, is a Champagne loving Parisian. She says that she’s never knowingly tried an Ultra Brut Champagne and I’m sure that she’ll like this one which is bone dry yet rich and toasty. I think that the Ultra Brut style, zero dosage (no added sugar), is the ultimate aperitif and I particularly liked Billecart-Salmon’s take on the style.

I’m cooking duck on Christmas Day and my two red wine choices for the Christmas dinner hail from Spain and Italy respectively and both are made by family producers. We’ll be opening Ochoa’s Mil Gracias Graciano (2007 vintage) which was made by Adriana Ochoa at Olite in Navarra (northern Spain). This wine is simply superb and it’s deep black inky fruit and freshness matches dark game perfectly.

Equally fine and perfect for this time of year is Allegrini’s ‘Corte Giara’ Amarone della Valpolicella 2008, a slightly richer red with enticing black cherry fruit and great length.

Between Christmas and New Year I’ll be cooking pheasant and I’ve got a rather different wine in mind to go with it: Roxanich’s Antica 2007, a Malvazija (Malvoisie in France and Malvasia in Spain). I tasted this Croatian wine at Green & Blue wine merchants in East Dulwich along with Trevor Long and Judith Burns, importers of Croatian wines (www.pactaconnect.co.uk). I was seduced by the wine’s great depth and spicy flavours as well as its beautiful texture. Pheasant or Guinea fowl will surely have the flavour profile to go with it. Happy Christmas!

Chocolate Pot

150 gr dark chocolate

300 ml single cream

1 egg, beaten

A touch of vanilla essence

A drop of brandy

Method:

Melt small pieces of chocolate in the cream being careful not to overheat. Pour into a blender, start to blend and add the remaining ingredients. Pour into six pots, cool and chill. Decorate with seasonal fruit.

Magnums make a great gift

A few years ago I started to give magnums (the equivalent of two standard bottles of wine/1.5litre) to my family and friends at Christmas and other times of the year. I’ll be doing the same this year for the following reasons:

1. The magnum bottle is often described as the ideal size for wine maturation favouring quality.

2. Producers generally select some of their best vintages or stocks for magnums so you can expect the quality of the wine to be good.

3. A magnum makes an impression and raises a smile.

Most good wine merchants stock more magnums at this time of year as well as half bottles (37.5cl) which make great stocking fillers and additions to hampers. Here’s my guide to where to find a good selection:

Berry Bros & Rudd is offering around 200 magnums coving Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, German Riesling, Italian Barolo, Rioja, Port and one or two top drops from Australia. Prices range from £29.90 to over £2,000. www.bbr.com

London wine merchant Lea & Sandeman has a varied range of wine, Champagne and ports in magnum with many priced under £50 although you could splash out on Krug Grande Cuvée Brut for £355. www.leaandsandeman.co.uk  

Majestic lists 10 magnums of Champagne and wine starting with the very drinkable Viñalba Reserva Malbec 2009 at £17.99. www.majestic.co.uk  

Waitrose has a range of magnum gift sets from £40 to £120.  www.waitrose.com

Corks Out, with several branches in Cheshire, has a good choice of Champagne in magnum and other wines including 2001 and 2000 vintages of Lebanon’s Château Musar. You can also find a magnum accessory set here for £13.36. www.corksout.com

The Secret Cellar lists 26 magnums from France, Spain, Champagne, Australia, South Africa and California . www.secretcellar.co.uk

Stevens Garnier has a good range of magnums and half bottles including Spanish and French wines. www.stevensgarnier.co.uk

Last but by no means least Oddbins has magnum bottles of Château Jaumard 2009 on shelf for £15. If you like a drop of easy-going claret at this time of year try this, it’s great value for the price. www.oddbins.com

2011 harvest report for Spain

My extensive report on this year’s harvest in Spain can be seen at: www.winesfromspainuk.com

I collected comment from producers and regional representatives in both well known and up-and-coming regions to find out about the challenges that they faced and their early predictions for the wines of 2011. We will start to see the first wines next spring when young whites and rosés come onto the market followed by young reds and, sometime later, oak-aged reds when they have completed their maturation in both the barrel and the bottle.

The Rosendale: bringing good food and wine to south-east London…

Could the gastropub finally be coming to south-east London? I was curious to find out when I learnt that The Rosendale, in West Dulwich, had been taken over by Renaissance Pubs. The team already has a number of quality orientated pub-restaurants in the Wandsworth/Balham area, but this is its biggest venture to date.

Our first intention to visit on a Saturday night was foiled by a private function that had taken over the whole building. (I later learn that this was an outstanding commitment from the previous ownership and would not be the norm).

We tried again, successfully, a few weeks ago and again on a Saturday night. This time we booked ahead and we were warmly welcomed. In fact the waiting staff were attentive from start to finish and there were certainly plenty of them fluttering around the tables.

The starters offered plenty of choice – I might have gone for the squid & cuttlefish with chorizo, fennel and rocket – but we decided to jump straight to main dishes. My partner’s sirloin steak was tender and cooked as requested – no complaints there. My Guinea fowl with creamy leeks, peas and potato fondant was excellent but a little more potato would have been welcome. Guinea fowl can be dry but this one was moist, tasty and came with a delicious sauce. So far so good, although we were finding the ‘background’ music a bit intrusive and we were having to raise our voices to hear each other.

By the time we’d finished the mains we were about half way down a bottle of very drinkable South African Syrah so the British cheese board seemed like a good idea to go with the rest of the wine. This was a bit disappointing in both presentation and content. The board came with a selection of three cheeses and one or two slightly soft large puffy cheese biscuits. Two were tasty enough – a firm goat’s cheese and a cheddar – but the third, a Somerset brie, was bland (and in my experience this cheese always is…).

The cheese board needs a bit more attention as not everyone wants to end their meal with something sweet AND the wine list is impressive (for south-east London it’s positively ground-breaking).  So, like us, customers might want to end their meal with a plate of good cheese and a glass of wine.

Careful thought has gone into the wines and the presentation of the list. You can find your way through quite a large selection guided by style descriptions such as ‘zesty and zingy’ or ‘smooth and round’ and if you just want one glass there are quite a few choices (175ml or 250ml) as well as the 500ml carafe.

The drinks list also offers cocktails, bottled beers – including three from London’s Meantime brewery – and whiskies from around the world. All this can be enjoyed in the bar area near the entrance along with bar snacks including burgers, Welsh rarebit or half a pint of prawns or in the restaurant area.

Under the previous ownership, The Rosendale was an upmarket restaurant that didn’t last. Now it offers something that will hopefully keep the locals coming back and, give or take a few minor details, we came away satisfied. What’s for sure is that south-east London needs The Rosendale and a lot more places like it.

 

The Rosendale, 65 Rosendale Rd, West Dulwich, SE1 8EZ, www.therosendale.co.uk

Two courses for two with wine: approximately £70

European wines are the sommelier’s favourite…

My latest feature in Eat.Drink magazine, published by The Drinks Business, explains why Europe offers a rich variety of food friendly wines, from well known classics to far more obscure grapes and wine styles. I talk to leading sommeliers and restaurateurs about their current favourites, how to serve them and what to eat with them. The feature can be seen in the ‘About’ section of the website. 

Wine and spice: Yalumba dinner at The Cinnamon Club…

Which are the best wines for spicy food? I joined a group of diners at The Cinnamon Club last Friday to pick up some tips.

The Cinnamon Club’s wine consultant, Laurent Chaniac, selected a colourful selection of top drops from South Australia’s Yalumba to accompany head chef Rakesh Ravindran Nair’s modern Indian cuisine.

Our aperitif was Janz Premium Cuvée Rosé, a Pinot Noir-dominant sparkling wine from Yalumba’s winery in Tasmania. Known as “Australia’s ice bucket”, Tasmania has a cool maritime climate and mountainous terrain making it an ideal place to grapes for fizz.

This sparkling rosé’s lively freshness and delicate red fruit worked a treat with a selection of canapés: lamb kebab in roomali bread, spiced prawn skewers on a mango coolis and tangy potato in a semolina shell.

At the table, we moved on to a more challenging match. Riesling is one of Australia’s specialities, particularly dry Riesling. Yalumba’s The Contours Riesling 2005 from the Eden Valley is both very dry (with a mere .5g per litre of residual sugar) and shows some mature fruit – the wine is released after five years in the bottle – but the wine’s zesty freshness is perfectly intact.

It was paired with a cold carpaccio of cured salmon, tandoori salmon and green pea relish. I felt that a slightly sweeter and more youthful Riesling might have complemented the tandoori salmon better. On the other hand, The Contours Riesling’s crisp acidity cut through the richness of the cured salmon; this combination was the clear winner for me.

The next courses all featured game, both feathered and four-legged varieties, giving the meal a seasonal touch. Tandoori partridge was served with The Virgilius Viognier 2008 which also comes from the Eden Valley. Yalumba has worked with this Rhône grape for nearly 30 years and its viticulturalists and winemakers have fine-tuned the style by letting the grapes ripen for longer to achieve richer peach and apricot flavours. The wine is aged on its lees for complexity and aged in mature oak barrels for just under a year.

This wine is also dry (2.1g of residual sugar) but the Viognier’s more overt fruit character matched the sweet spices of the tandoori partridge perfectly.

A main course of venison with poppy and coconut sauce and duck breast with saffron sauce was served with two Barossa Cabernet/Shiraz reds: The Signature 2005 and The Reserve 2001. Both wines are from good vintages and they have aged in oak for roughly the same time (22 and 20 months respectively). The Signature is matured in French, American and Hungarian oak and The Reserve exclusively in mostly new French oak. Both are fine wines but the more youthful of the two, The Signature, was my preferred choice for this dish.

The final pairing of the evening was an intriguing and delightful duo: Botrytis Riesling, Heggies Vineyard 2010 and shrikhand (Indian yoghurt) cheesecake with quince chutney. This sweet Riesling is made from vines located in an area of the Heggies Vineyard which is prone to autumn fog and humidity. These conditions encourage Botrytis (noble rot) to develop in the grapes which are left to ripen and shrivel well after the end of the main harvest – the intensely sweet berries were picked in the first half of June 2010. A light sweet wine (10% alcohol) this Riesling sees no oak and it has attractive citric and lychee fruit. It has all the criteria to match a gently spiced dessert.

I was curious to know more about the cheesecake – there seemed to be a hint of ginger which turns out to be cardamom. Rakesh has kindly sent me the recipe which is reproduced below.

With thanks to: Rakesh Ravindran Nair and the team at The Cinnamon Club and Jane Ferrari for both useful background on Yalumba and entertaining anecdotes.

www.yalumba.com

www.cinnamonclub.com

Shrikhand cheesecake with carom seed crumble

For the cheesecake

250g Greek yoghurt (hung in muslin overnight)

100g Mascarpone cheese

100ml double cream, whipped to soft peaks

50g sugar

½ tsp green cardamom powder

For the crumble:

250g flour

250g sugar

180g ground almonds

250g salted butter, diced

5g carom seeds

For the crumble base, mix all the ingredients till a homogeneous mixture is achieved. Spread on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool and ‘crumble’.

For the cheesecake, fold all the ingredients together gently and chill.

To make up the cheesecake, place the crumble at the bottom of a dish or ring 2-3 cm thick. Fill the rest of the mould with the cheesecake mix and chill for a few hours before serving.

Serve with the cheesecake with a sweet chutney of your choice like quince chutney.

2011 harvest

2011 harvest:  too hot for some but English producers welcome the Indian summer…

Unpredictable weather during the growing season culminating in a dry and hot harvest is challenging wine producers in some regions – see my first report on the 2011 harvest for Spain and Portugal on www.decanter.com/news

But in much of southern England, with temperatures reaching almost 30˚C in recent days, the fine weather bodes well for quality.

Harvest started at Ridgeview Estate for its sparkling wines a week earlier than usual on September 24th. Winemaker Mike Roberts said: “This weather has certainly come at the right time. We are picking our Pinot Noir today but we’ll wait for about one more week for the Chardonnay as we maximise this welcome sunshine.”

He added: “The crop is looking incredibly clean with smaller berries than usual which have really intense flavours and are tasting beautiful.”